On and on the miserable crew rowed through mist and fog for their meager barley gruel. Joel was weary. This was not what the brochure had promised, not at all. He had not listened to the Supreme Leader of Coffee Nation’s haunting words of warning at their last meeting… “Don’t drink the Danubian waters, my friend. You will surely die.” He had thought the Burritoman was mad then. Now he had to reconsider everything. Could the Nation be behind this awful experience? Impossible, absurd. He must be delusional, that’s all. Dehydrated.
For the past four days he had rowed and eaten and slept at this wooden seat with a hole in the middle for latrine needs. His beard had grown shaggy. Shackled to his oar, “Thirty four” his only identity, he wept dry hopeless tears that rolled down his cheeks like some exotic sports deodorant/antiperspirant. Injustice hung in the fetid air, buzzing like a rusty harmonica played by Nelson (Not Willie Nelson, no. Make no mistake, folks. Nelson, like the great admiral of yore.) Mandela in 1978. So wrong on so many levels. Yearning for freedom, longing for justice, producing nothing but callouses on dirty fingers and palms. “A slave rows in airless obscurity while his free master sails into bright glory”, Joel muttered into sweaty duct tape to his fellow enslaved rowers. Forty years of practicing law, he thought, and he knew nothing of injustice like this. His ears had been deaf to cries coming from below the courthouse decks he danced across.
Every day a different song played above the galley slave deck. Today it was On the Road Again by Mr. Willie Nelson. He could hear Varushka dancing a Russian two step with Viktor, around and around above his aching head in a slowed down NASCAR ellipse. He prayed against the peeling duct tape on his lips, “Please God, make it stop. I will do anything you ask of me. Just no more. My very musical soul is atrophying. Please, anything. I beg you!” He tried to override the pedestrian music overhead with memorized pieces of Bach and Beethoven, Britton, Copeland… nothing could shut down the thump, thump, thump country western beat of weathered Russian feet against mildewed European oak.
For the past four days the song of the day played on an endless, maddening loop. After the shove off song of Highway to Hell, day two featured the mercilessly unrelenting L.A. Woman until Joel contracted an L.A. Migraine, which is the equivalent of all the residents of Los Angeles having a migraine at the same time. That’s 18.68 million people in the greater L.A. area. Scientists estimate the radioactive power of such an event as equaling the dynatonnage of all the hydrogen bombs ever exploded on earth and in space. Possibly equal to the original Big Band sounds Joel longed to hear now. Just a moment of Benny Goodman would be a salve to his ruptured eardrums. If Joel ever got out of this predicament, he vowed to hunt down every copy of L.A. Woman and destroy each one with a propane torch. “Mr. Mojo Risin” was welded, tattooed, and wood burned into his mind despite all his defensive efforts. He would melt down each vinyl copy into “Mr. Mojo Raisin”. He would go to the World Court and reopen the Geneva Convention on torture rules. Surely he was being waterboarded at a sick musical dry cleaner’s operation in the Czech Republic.
Day 3 was dedicated to the Beatles worst song ever– Your Birthday. The infantile lyrics blasted non stop as Varushka stomped along with the beat. Apparently it was her birthday. “Ypa, ypa, ypa, nostrovia!!” Joel rowed on, wondering if he would ever celebrate another birthday. “I would like you to dance. Take a cha-cha-cha-chance.”
“No thank you. I don’t want to go to your party, party. Dear God, where did I fail you? Where is my Ravel, my Brahms? If you won’t consent to kill me, can you strike me deaf at least? Even Ulysses allowed his men to plug their ears with wax when they sailed by the sirens. Am I so much less than Ulysses’ least? Why do you allow this Jobian exercise to continue? Kill me, please.”
When night came and the oars were racked up, the prisoners slept where they sat all day, only now they could lean forward on the oar pediment with weary arms folded as a pillow of flesh. Rest would not come, though, only terror at what musical torture lay ahead on Day 5. When would it end? How?
Slits of sunlight shot through the gaps of the deck boards above like lasers. Joel’s fear and self pity yielded to raw sousaphonic rage. He had had enough of this bestial river cruise. He longed for a mirror to see if his chin held a Kirk Douglas cleft because he was feeling like Spartacus. Ready to lead a slave revolt. Until this moment he had settled for picking only the low hanging fruit that life offered him. But here, at this momentous intersection, he felt giraffe like, wanting only to nibble tree tops. He would not stoop again for any man or god.
— to be continued.